Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Facing an Uphill Task

Koraput district of Orissa is part of the famous KBK triad of Koraput, Bolangir and Kalahandi which is notorious for poverty and starvation among its tribals and dalits who constitute 55% of the population of which 71% are residing below the poverty line. So when I got an opportunity to visit a village in this district last month I grabbed it. We visited a village called Gunnar populated totally by Paraja tribals. A small village with less than a hundred hectares of agricultural land and some 50 families. Most of their land is in the hilly forests where they have traditionally practiced shifting cultivation. However, as one farmer regretfully noted the forests have become degraded and the population pressure has gone up so the cycle of shifting cultivation has led to deterioration in land quality. Only in a very small proportion of land along a stream that passes through the village is there any irrigation. The meagre farm and forest produce is mostly consumed by the poor tribals who were visibly mal nourished and there is little surplus to sell or process. The weakness of the economy of the village can be gauged from the fact that the intra village daily wage rate is only Rs 20 and the mortgage rate for land is Rs 2000 per acre.
The school building is under construction and the teacher is absent on most days. There is no child care centre under the Integrated Child Development Scheme and neither do the women get the benefit of ante-natal or post natal care from the Rural Health Service. Most women deliver their babies in their homes with the help of a traditional birth attendant and only in complicated cases are referrals made to hospitals because of the difficulty of transporting.
The villagers have organised themselves with the help of an NGO to demand individual and community forest rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Recognition of Rights Act. Especially the women, under the leadership of Utto Mudali, a widow with a paralysed arm, have been active in the battle for forest rights.
The women have not only secured the rights to their own forest farms but have also socially fenced off and planted a variety of trees on a fifty hectare plot of community forest land shown below. This is a significant change for this community which has traditionally cut down and burnt forests to do shifting cultivation. Seeing that with the changed situation they have to adopt a different attitude toward the forests they have begun conserving them. However, the battle over forests is not yet over as the deeds that have been given to them for their forest farms are not properly made out. They have also not yet been given the title to the community forest that they have begun protecting and which still has a long way to go as shown below.
The basic problem is the low land availability which is less than an acre for agricultural land and about four acres for forest land per household. The poor soil quality, the hilly terrain and the lack of irrigation further compound matters. The remoteness of the village from the nearest market is also a negative factor. Under the circumstances it is not surprising that the people are living on the edge in grinding poverty with little hope of achieving sustainability and economic well being. The only handpump is dysfunctional and the people have to drink the river water as shown below and this results in water borne diseases.
The whole situation in this village angered me tremendously. These people were really working hard but given their resource constraints and the remoteness of their habitat from the mainstream market economy there was little that they could do to pull themselves up from their dire living conditions. The government and the administration are obviously not bothered. In fact there is a board in the approach to the village that says that a spring based potable water system has been installed but there is no sign of it anywhere. When the state machinery is so callous and apathetic then the people have a difficult task at hand to make their lives better. A pity given that they are so hard working and innovative and have done their level best to adapt to changing circumstances. They even tried to migrate for work because the MGNREGS is not being implemented properly and only about ten people have got ten days of work last year. They went to Chennai to work as construction labourers but eventually came back after earning just their meals and to and fro fare.
There is an NGO working in this village trying to provide them with guidance and support. A scheme promoted by the National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development for improvement of Horticulture and Agriculture is being implemented. However, given the huge resource constraints, the NGO's efforts like those of other NGOs is a only a drop in the ocean. Unless there is a systemic change in the developmental model on a global scale there is not much hope of any notable improvement in the livelihoods of these poor villagers.

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